By Jack Loder
Most starting roles have been determined at this point in the season among the Firebird position players. One position that will continue to be a revolving door, however, are the catchers. Connor Burns, Garret Guillemette and Bennett Lee work in a three man rotation behind the dish, and so far all three have found ways to contribute to the team’s early season success. Saturday it was Lee’s turn, and oh boy did he deliver. The Tulane product turned Wake Forest transfer got his shot in the top of the sixth and he didn’t miss it. Lee belted a two run triple into deep right center, extending a 1-0 Firebirds lead to 3-0. Orleans didn’t look back, cruising late to a 4-1 victory over the Harwich Mariners at White House field.
“I was getting comfortable approach wise against these guys last week and was able to find the right pitch,” Lee said. “I was proud of the way we executed tonight.”
Catchers aren’t known for their speed, but Lee raced around the bases like a fleet footed center fielder. As he rounded second base, his own headwind blew off his helmet by the brim. Once he avoided being tripped up by the sudden projectile, he was home free. Lee cruised into third with the Firebirds second triple of the season.
“I absolutely knew it was a triple out of the box,” Lee said. “It was a lot of fun, I’m pretty average speed wise but I was going hard on that one.”
Saturday’s theme for Orleans was simple. Play 54 outs. On the road, a win means that the bottom of the ninth is necessary and thus outs 52-54 are as well. It was coach Max Fecske who let the media in on this mantra before the game, and the Birds took it to heart.
Cole Stallings got the start for Orleans and while his outing was brief, it was nails. In his third start of the summer, Stallings turned in two shutout innings, striking out two Mariners and walking one. He surrendered a couple of base knocks but escaped both frames unscathed with relative ease.
Tommy Hopfe followed Stallings and did him one better in his first three innings. Harwich went nine up nine down against the Fresno State right-hander in the third through fifth innings. Hopfe’s dominance didn’t make it to the sixth inning. An error at third by Logan Beard and a single set the stage for Harwich’s first run of the night, courtesy of a Nick Goodwin base hit to center. Hopfe was lifted for Josh Allen, who retired the final two batters of the sixth.
As he has ocnsistently done in his limited appearances this summer, Allen then pitched himself into trouble in the home half of the seventh. A walk, a single and a wild pitch put runners at second and third. Allen got a pair of strikeouts between those mishaps, and induced a fly out to end a high stress frame and maintain the 4-1 Firebirds lead heading to the eighth inning.
“We gave up one run in nine innings,” Kelly Nicholson, who always keeps it simple, said. “Stallings did his job, Allen did as well. Loncar was up to 94, and Chris Clark did a nice job. Great work by them.”
Saturday marked the first time Orleans’ newcomers took the field, and they showed why they will be a welcome addition. Vanderbilt’s Jack Bulger and Louisville’s Isaac Humphries and Logan Beard each made their summer debuts in the Harwich twilight. Bulger and Humphries picked up base hits and Humphries’ sixth inning single was smoked up the middle to plate Bennett Lee.
Wyatt Loncar and Chris Clark were tasked with getting the final six defensive outs for Orleans in its 54 inning journey, and both delivered. Loncar, making his first bullpen appearance of the summer, retired Harwich in order in the bottom of the eighth. Clark allowed a leadoff single to begin the home half of the ninth, but then got a strikeout, a pop out and finally a game ending strikeout to seal Orleans’ fifth win in six games.
“This is fun man, it’s really fun,” Nicholson said of the team’s recent hot stretch. “This is why we play baseball, that’s why we keep score.”